Sponsored by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex – Fifty-four years ago, 30-ish year-old Frances Torain…
The Gospel Harmanaires of Oxford and The Carolina Kings of Henderson have songs on a compilation that highlights gospel music from 1959-1962.
By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever
The year was 2005. It’s the year Sweden-based producer Per “Slim” Notini began collecting vinyl singles recorded on Bobby Robinson’s short-lived small, independent record label called Revelation Records. Notini continued to unearth gems over the years and from his treasure has now produced and released a 27-track disc entitled Best of Revelation Records, 1959-1962,for NarroWay Records. Among the singers featured on the golden era CD compilation are two NC quartets, The Gospel Harmanaires of Oxford with “Too Close” and The Carolina Kings of Henderson with “What A Blessing.”
“Too Close,” featuring James Thornton and bass singer Ray Gill on lead, takes off in uptempo fashion. It’s a contrast to Alex Bradford’s composition of the same name, which was popularized by quartets like the Brooklyn Allstars and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama.
A few tracks later, paradoxical to its title, “What A Blessing” opens noticeably somber with organ and the tremolo-heavy guitar of the song’s writer, George Hargrove. Soon enough though, listeners are captured by Lonnie Heggie’s resonant tenor and the sturdy backing vocals of The Kings. Not unusual for songs of the era, the track length falls 15 seconds short of the three-minute mark. Given the immediate attention the music and vocals command despite the song’s brevity, “What A Blessing” sounds like it might have been a perfect opening number for The Kings’ concerts.
The CD is accompanied by essay liner notes and photos compiled and composed by Notini about Revelation Records, Bobby Robinson, and the label‘s producer John Bowden. The essay also contains photos and bios on most of the featured artists. Notini says he regrets not having any information about the Harmanaires and The Kings at the time his notes were written. Scouring the Internet yielded no biographical information on either group.
Hargrove, the founder and only surviving original member of The Carolina Kings, talked with GMF about his group’s 61-year history (the group was formed in 1952) and original members (General Rainey, Goodrich Rainey, Prince Moore, William Nowell, and Hargrove). He also recalls appearing frequently on programs with The Gospel Harmanaires, but he believes all the group’s members have now passed on.
Hargrove is thrilled that his group’s music has been preserved and presented in this format. This is just one of at least 27 reasons Best of Revelation Records, 1959-1962 is a gospel collector’s joy. If not for the efforts of Per “Slim” Notini, such gems would very likely remain hidden from the present-day generation of traditional gospel enthusiasts.
Libra Nicole Boyd, PhD is a musician, award-winning author, gospel music aficionado, and the founder and editor of Gospel Music Fever™. Her commitment to journalistic integrity includes bringing you reliable gospel music content that uplifts and advances the art form. Libra is presently working on several scholarly projects about gospel music in the media as well as gospel music in social movements.